Martial art

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What is martial?

Spend some time researching the nature of combat. See what other martial arts classes and styles are doing. Gain an understanding of what combat entails.
Do you know the difference between a martial art and a fighting art? Between fighting and self defence? Is your class exploring a realistic range of martial scenarios? How do you address fear?


Most martial arts are pretty effective. The question really is: which system suits you? What are your criteria? Are you looking for kicking, punching, grappling? Do you want to fight?
Or do you want self defence? Are you seeking a more philosophical component? How old are you? Are you being realistic about your fitness level and degree of commitment?
See what is on offer.

Every class is different

No two martial arts schools are the same. Every instructor teaches according to their own values, interpretation of the material, and personal preferences.
Ask yourself: Does the class teach a 'complete martial art' (health/fitness/brain work/grappling/striking)? Do you need to supplement the training with gym work, running or weight training?
How concerned is the class with fitness and wellbeing? Are the students friendly and relaxed? Is there a macho atmosphere? Can smaller students use the art effectively?

Fitness comes first

All martial arts require the student to be fit for combat.
Tai chi students train: massage, leg stretches, qigong, neigong, form, partnered work, martial sets & drills, combat and weapons.
The training is done carefully, gently - in a controlled manner - without exertion or strain.

One of my friends studied judo for years and years. She was waiting for a chance to use it, but for a long time nobody tried to attack her. Then one day somebody grabbed her in a parking lot - and she slugged him with her purse! And then she thought, "Oh! What happened to my judo?"

She must have been practicing judo as if it were an isolated thing. We should always practice to let the immediacy of the moment come through. Then you always have a sense of what you are doing now.

(Chungliang Al Huang)


An instructor should have an in-depth, extensive syllabus, good teaching skills and the ability to perform all aspects of the art spontaneously and easily.
The lessons should be stimulating; challenging and thought-provoking. The teacher should be articulate, calm, composed and skilful.


Ultimately, your martial arts training is in your hands. Your own personality influences the art you choose and the degree to which you invest in the training.
Patience and an open-mind are required.

Martial science

The science of warfare and combat is ancient. Sun Tzu wrote the classic treatise called The Art of War.
Miyamoto Musashi wrote The Book of Five Rings concerning the demeanour and bearing of samurai.
Understanding the science behind the art is essential. Without the science, the art is usually doomed to ineffectualness. Science is about the substance, the proof.

What is science?

Science is the attempt to understand the nature of reality.
In martial terms it refers to the techniques and strategies used in real combat, as well as the physical requirements that make the system operate effectively.
In martial arts training we must ask: how can natural law be used in combat?


Talk is cheap in the modern world, so we encourage direct experience instead. Nobody in a martial arts class is expected to take the instructor's word for it.
Find out for yourself through practical exercises. Belief is not a requirement, nor is faith. You are not a disciple. Martial arts training adopts a scientific approach.
The evidence is to be found in the doing and the proof in the effect. This is called 'empiricism'. Discover the facts for yourself. Feel it for yourself. This is the heart of Zen.

Martial art

Within classes that teach tai chi as a martial art there are many interpretations as to how the art should be applied.
There are differences of style, perceptions of relaxation, sensitivity and softness.
One class may teach karate-esque practice that bears little resemblance to the art outlined in The Tai Chi Classics. Another class may be ultra-soft and subtle.

Recognisable style

If you watch wing chun applied in combat, it looks distinctly like wing chun. The same could be said of judo, aikido, ju jitsu, pencat silat etc.
By the same reasoning, applied tai chi must look like tai chi.

What does tai chi look like?

Tai chi looks like tai chi. The form, pushing hands, you know... tai chi. If your martial expression of tai chi does not look like tai chi, it is probably not tai chi.


The martial arts were not developed for the defence of soldiers fighting on battlefields. Neither are they sports. The combat that martial artists practice is free of restraints. Martial arts have one objective only: to neutralise an attack by any means, and as rapidly as possible.

(Howard Reid)

Page created 23 September 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023